By Nastassia Astrasheuskaya
KOROLYOV, Russia (Reuters) - A Soyuz capsule carrying two Russian cosmonauts and a U.S. astronaut from the International Space Station (ISS) landed safely in Kazakhstan on Friday.
The Soyuz TMA-22 parachuted down onto the steppe in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, landing on schedule and on target north of the town of Arkalyk after a three-hour descent from the orbital outpost.
Space officials, technicians and relatives of the crew watching footage on a big screen at Russian Mission Control outside Moscow burst into applause when footage taken from a helicopter showed the capsule touchdown.
"We have landing!" big block lettering on the screen said.
The cramped capsule brought veteran NASA astronaut Daniel Burbank and Russians Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin back to Earth after nearly six months aboard the ISS.
Speaking on NASA TV, a NASA spokesman at the site said it had been "one of the most pinpoint and precise landings" of a Soyuz returning from the station.
Shkaplerov, the first to be pulled from the capsule resting on its side on the steppe, smiled and gave a thumbs up after support personnel sat him in a chair and wrapped a blue blanket over his legs, despite temperatures over 70 F (21 C).
Ivanishin followed with a broad grin and then Burbank, who chuckled as he answered questions from medical personnel.
Their trip to the station in November was the first since the U.S. space agency NASA ended its 30-year shuttle programme, leaving the 16 nations investing in the $100-billion station to rely solely on Russia to ferry crews for the time being.
The mission had been delayed by safety fears after an unmanned Russian Progress craft taking supplies to the station broke up in the atmosphere in August.
That was one of five botched Russian launches last year that marred celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Soviet pilot Yuri Gagarin's first human space flight and hurt Moscow's pride.
The launch failures included a long-awaited unmanned mission to return samples from the Martian moon Phobos.
Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, NASA's Don Pettit and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers remain aboard the ISS, where they arrived in December.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Tim Pearce)